As the class members used binoculars to scan the valleys and canyons of the Portneuf Wildlife Management Area south of Pocatello, a voice rang out.

“There are two fawns over by that group of junipers,” said Martha Wackenhut, Idaho Fish and Game regional wildlife manager for the southeast region. “Right near that perfectly conical tree.”

Everybody moved their optics into the direction Wackenhut was pointing toward. But because the valley is so sprawling, only a few members of the class located the fawns before the animals ducked behind the brush.

On Saturday, officials at Idaho Fish and Game took participants in a deer hunting class to the Portneuf Wildlife Management Area for a field trip teaching about mule deer habitat and tracking. The class was a part of the newly-launched Wildavore Program, which provides adults with hunting workshops and a chance to complete a hunter education class.

Classes continue until deer hunting season in October, when class participants will be able to apply what they learned on a mentored deer hunt.

Saturday’s field trip was the second class in the four-month series, and the Portneuf Wildlife Management Area was an ideal place to start.

Fish and Game purchased the area in 1970 as a habitat for mule deer. The now 3,100-acre area is home to a large number of animal species as well, including elk, moose, coyotes and a variety of birds.

After being briefed on the history and local habitat of Southeastern Idaho’s deer population, Senior Conservation Officer Merritt Horsmon took the class on a hike alongside Robbers Roost Creek. An experienced mule deer hunter, Horsmon provided numerous tips on hunting the big-earred animal.

A mule deer peers out from tall grass. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

A mule deer peers out from tall grass. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

“Some hunters will go months without using scented soaps or deodorant,” he said, in regards to how human smells can spook deer populations. “Some will not eat onions, garlic or any spices in their foods before a hunt.”

Other tips he provided include dressing in layers and wearing thin wool clothes while on the hunt, as synthetic materials are noisy and cotton harbors body odors. He advised that hunters should scan a large geographical area with binoculars to look for unnatural horizontal lines in the distance, which could indicate a hidden deer.

As for proper footwear, Horsmon says everybody has their own opinion, but he believes that lightweight is better.

“They do say that a pound on your foot equals five pounds on your back,” he said.

As the hike meandered through the wildlife area, numerous animal tracks could be found on the dirt trail. One set of prints were clearly horse hooves, as a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer was situated in the wildlife area’s parking lot.

What appeared to be dog tracks could have been made from coyotes, but they were too faded to definitively tell.

“You don’t know how old dirt tracks are,” Horsmon said. “Tracking in the snow is easier because you can tell how old the tracks are.”

After hiking a mile, a series of small deer tracks were found. The heart pattern in the brown dirt was clearly distinguished.

“They should look like a heart,” Horsmon told the class. “Wherever the heart is pointing to is the direction the deer is heading.”

As the hike came near its end and the class approached the parking lot, there was a violent rustling from a bush about 30 yards ahead. Out of the blue, a giant turkey emerged on the trail. After a few seconds, it crossed the creek and disappeared into the brush.

“Oops, wrong hunting season,” laughed one of the class members.

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